Friday, 24 July 2015

The History of elite unit Großdeutschland - part 2

Opel Blitz Rote Kreuz Ambulance.
15mm model from Skytrex.

As my 15mm Operation Barbarossa collection expands, I found it necessary to add some more peripheral non-combat units – like this Opel Blitz Ambulance. As the German “Landsers” pushed eastward in 41 and 42, a virtual exodus of wagons and supply transports followed them. 

The lifesaving heroes right behind the frontline.
These hardened women would witness much suffering and death during their service.

The most iconic of these were perhaps the Opel Blitz. So this was a natural choice when I wanted to add an ambulance unit. The ambulance model will probably serve as an objective marker or supply wagon with replenishment effect for infantry units on the table, all depending on rules and scenario.

The aerial view of the Opel Blitz, 
with clear markings to prevent any accidental bombings.

The History of the Großdeutschland part 2 – Blitzkrieg and the Fall of France

We last left the newly formed Großdeutschland in the training camp, preparing for what was nearing on the horizon, a World War. In September 1939 the Führer’s ambition for “Lebensraum” finally pushed Germany over the edge, and lead the great nation into a deep black hole. 37 German divisions swamped Polish defenses, and despite brave resistance, Poland was all but overrun. Großdetschland was stationed near the border, and preparing to launch an operation in Eastern Poland, when the Soviet Union moved in and claimed that part of the now doomed nation. A baptism of fire would have to wait for Großdeutschland.

Guderian directing the advance.
He is seen here using the Enigma encoding machine.

After the completion of the Polish invasion, many units including Großdetschland was moved to the west, in anticipation of an attack by Polish allies, France and Great Britain. Großdetschland was now strengthened with an Assault Engineer battalion and expanded from two battalions to include four. Meanwhile the regiment was attached to a part of the western defensive line in conjuncture with Guderian’s XIX Motorized Army Corps, which would be the start of a long lasting relation.

Invasion begins - Crossing the border.

In the spring of 1940, Denmark and Norway fell, but there was still no move made by the British or French. Großdetschland was reinforced with new StuG III assult guns, and move into a position in the middle of the Mosel region, across from the old battlefields from 1914 and 1870. Fall Gelb, the main assault on Holland, Belgium and France began on the 10th May 1940, and would see Großdetschland move in through Luxembourg, consolidating positions taken by the fast moving panzers in front. 

German troops advancing through Belgium and Luxembourg.

The German push went forward like a steamroller, down towards Sedan and the Meuse river. Großdetschland fought actively during these days, mostly involved in smaller encounters with fragments of Belgian troops, who had come into disorganization with their front overrun by fast motorized German units. The Meuse was crossed on the 13th, with the honor of establishing the bridgehead given to Rommel’s 7th Panzer Div. Meanwhile on the 14th, Holland surrendered. The situation was becoming increasingly desperate for the Allies.

Opel Blitz Ambulance adding backbone
 to the crucial frontline medical logistics.

The bridgehead at Sedan put all Allied forces still fighting in Belgium into serious risk. Therefor a series of determined counterattacks were made at Sedan, which Großdetschland would participate in successfully fighting off, securing this important strategic gain. Sedan proved important, not only puncturing the Allied defenses, but also their morale. 

German wounded trooper getting the first treatment.

With Allied will to fight all but zapped by the defeat at Sedan, a race towards the Channel started. Kleist’s Armored forces conquered St. Quentin on the 18th May, and on the 20th Abbeville fell, cutting off the BEF’s direct line of communication, leading to their evacuation. The Allied faced defeat, and they knew it. Frantic dispatches went out from London and Paris to all remaining European powers. France was about to fall, and the UK didn’t know for how long they would be able to keep on fighting. 

The brave defenders of Sedan.
France fell after 6 desperate weeks of fighting.

In June Guderian and Großdetschland continued their push south from Sedan, reaching the Swiss border on the 17th, effectively cutting off some 500.000 French troops in the Maginot Line. France sued for peace. The nation had fallen in less than two months, and negotiations for a complete surrender commenced. The Allies had suffered about 360.000 casualties, while Germany noted some 160.000 dead and wounded. 

German officers during the victory parade on Champs-Élysées, Paris.

While the last sporadic fighting took place, Großdetschland kept advancing, and on the 19th they occupied the big southern city of Lyon. In this capital of French cuisine, the Großdetschland enjoyed some much-needed days of rest. Meanwhile new plans were being made at HQ under the name “Seelöwe” or Sealion. 

To be continued - Next up Part 3: Barbarossa

Thank you very much for reading!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The History of elite unit Großdeutschland - part 1

Two Zundapp MC's blazing eastward during Barbarossa.
Minis are 15's from Skytrex.

As summer is reaching an untelling apex here in Stockholm with temperatures refusing to go beyond 20 Celsius, I find my way back to the painting table and the blogger-sphere. The much needed break was used primarily to follow the surprising drama in the early stages of this year’s Tour de France (cycling being another big passion of mine).

MC recon unit taking a well-deserved smoking break.
Also, I've been developing plans for what will be a 1.5 x 3 meters gaming table, specifically decorated in a French countryside style, aimed at offering a frame for wargaming battles in the period of 1870-1914 - more about that later. On with the Barbarossa project and the most recent addition. This week I’m adding a Zundapp Aufklärung (MC Recon) unit to my collection, setting a visual backdrop to part 1 of 6 of my blog post series on the German elite unit, Großdeutschland.

Another view at the Zundapps.
They are based on standard FoW small bases.


The History of elite unit Großdeutschland part 1: The unit’s origins

When the dust settles after a great struggle, and time applies conciliation and perspective, some of the names from the fight still live on. Whether in fame or infamy, they become linked with a specific battle, a certain glorious charge or perhaps stained with the disgrace of defeat or war crimes. The unit’s name echoes up through history, with a promise of relevance and immediacy for a particular moment in human history. 

The Wachtruppe Berlin (Berlin Guard) on one of it's frequent 
parades through central Berlin.

Reading up on Operation Barbarossa and the German units participating in the horrific fighting on the Eastern Front 1941-45, one name emerged more clearly than the others, Großdeutschland. This unit, consisting of the very best troops drafted from all over Germany, had the very DNA of Blitzkrieg in their bones, as they were formed partly by the drill-unit from the Infantry School at Döberitz, used to develop the innovative German tactics before the war. Their merits fast made them the favourite of Guderian, and they saw almost constant action until they were all but annihilated in 45, as the German army disintegrated under the overwhelming pressure of the Allies.

Heinz Guderian - the father of Blitzkrieg.

In order to trace the unit’s roots, we travel back to the days just after the First World War, during the turbulent Weimar Republic. In Berlin, rioting and public disorder was not uncommon, and it was thought prudent to form an official Guard Troop for the city. This Guard Troop, named the “Wachtregiment Berlin”, mainly consisted of ex-Freikorps soldiers, many of whom were war veterans, looking for a brawl with communists or, ironically perhaps, believing in an imminent Polish invasion of Germany. The Wachtregiment formed a simple but important duty, namely of twice a week marching with colors flying and band playing, through the Brandenburg Tor and down to the war memorial, in a deifying manner, significant for what was brewing in a post-war defeated Germany.

Early postcard showing the Döbertiz Infantry School.

When Hitler came to power in 1934, the regiment was expanded to eight companies with an integrated unit HQ. Newly drafted troops now came mainly from the Wehrmacht’s ranks, recruiting only the tallest and most skilled soldiers from across Germany, which resulted in almost all troopers being over 6 feet tall. (Perhaps a historic hint to the King Fredrick William’s Tall Grenadier Guard). 

Hans Valentin Hube.
The author of the German Infantry drill book, "Der Infanterist"

Meanwhile at the Army Infantry School outside Döberitz, Oberst Hans Valentin Hube, was working on the innovative new Blitzkrieg tactics, a drill project that would result in the publication of his book; the standard German Army infantry tactical drill manual “Der Infanterist”. Paired with the innovations of Guderian on armoured tactics, the fruit of Hube’s work would become evident in the early campaigns of WW2, with Poland and France completely overwhelmed by the rapidity and mobility of this new style of warfare.

Blitzkrieg was all about mobility,
something the Zundapps offered in abundance.

At Döberitz Hube had worked in close accord with a particular well-drilled infantry unit, which now formed the nucleus of the Blitzkrieg tactical DNA. In 1939, the larger part of this unit was merged with the Wachtregiment Berlin, to form an all new elite infantry regiment of four battalions. In an official ceremony at Moabit barrack’s, the regiment was awarded it’s name – Infanterie Regiment Großdeutschland (IRGD).

The Führer-begleit-Battalion (Führer Escort).
Troops from IRGD was handpicked for this unit.

The clouds of war were gathering on the horizon, and the newly formed IRGD was sent to undergo rigorous training, preparing them for what was to come. As international relations deteriorated, the unit had caught the eye of the Führer, and a small contingent was extracted from IRGD to form an armed escort troop for Hitler, named the “Führer-Begleit-Kommando”. 

Next part – Blitzkrieg, the fall of Poland and France.

Thank you very much for reading!